Five days after organizing the Adhikar rally in Patna to demand that the Centre grant special status to Bihar, the chief minister of the state, Nitish Kumar, flew to Karachi. This Pakistani city reportedly has the highest number of Biharis in the world, more than even Patna. Even though the purpose of Kumar’s visit to Pakistan was not to invoke Bihari sub-nationalism, it is true that the first country he visited after becoming the chief minister of Bihar was Mauritius, where a huge part of the population is of Indian origin, and mostly from Bihar.
One thing that Biharis in India and in Pakistan have in common is their shared feeling of neglect, irrespective of whether such a feeling is justified or not. Those in India feel that they are being exploited and neglected by the government at the Centre, while the Biharis in Pakistan, and more specifically in Karachi, feel the same way about the country’s federal government. Throughout the Adhikar Yatra, organized for seeking special status for Bihar, Kumar talked about the decades of mistreatment suffered by Bihar and its people. Interestingly, he also focused on the issue on the occasion of Bihar Diwas on March 22, 2011. That day marked 99 years of the foundation of Bihar after its separation from Bengal.
If one were to put aside debates over whether Bihar ought to get special status and speculations about whether Kumar was just indulging in political gimmicks, it can be said with some amount of certainty that the Biharis residing in Pakistan did not suffer neglect in the first 25 years or so since the creation of Pakistan. Till 1971 they were part of what was East Pakistan. These people were the ones who, after crossing over from India after 1947, went on to get most of the plum jobs for civilians. They hardly mixed with the Bengali Muslims in the region, whom they considered culturally inferior. They wanted to be counted as a part of the West Pakistani establishment. So when Bangladesh came into being, these were the people who had to bear the ire of the local population.
It is true that they paid a heavy price. Yet, it seems they have not learnt much from it. In West Pakistan (now Pakistan) all the Urdu-speaking people — whether they were from Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, or even Gujarat or Rajasthan — were, for want of an appropriate expression, clubbed as ‘Biharis’. For the migrants from UP or Delhi who were better off, being called a ‘Bihari’ was considered a slur. Hence, the concept of the ‘Mohajir’ was coined by them, and not by the Punjabis as is erroneously believed. First, the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization, and later the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, came into existence. The term,‘Mohajir’, never meant ‘refugee’. It signifies migrants. The Urdu word for ‘refugee’ is panahguzin. As ‘Mohajir’ is an exalted expression for Muslims — Prophet Mohammad himself was a migrant who had moved from Mecca to Medina — the Mohajirs always boasted of their cultural and religious superiority. The truth is that Islam condemns the very concept of cultural or racial superiority. Economic problems persisted, but the claim that the Mohajirs in Pakistan suffer the most is wrong. The Punjabis and the Mohajirs have always vied with each other for excellence, and the former have usually done better for themselves. It is the lot of the Sindhis and even the Pathans of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (formerly the North-West Frontier Province) that is still very bad.
After realizing the futility of pursuing the Mohajir cause too far, the MQM became the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. However, even in the erstwhile MQM, it was not the second or third generation Biharis, but those with roots in UP and Delhi, who grabbed the leadership.